A bit of Athabasca River history, in Paterson family photos

Pearl Lorentzen
Lakeside Leader

Former Widewater resident Bruce Paterson, has an extensive collection of historic photos taken by his grandparents.

The photos are from 1910 to 1923 and show scenes from travels up the Athabasca river. They were taken by Bruce’s grandparents Dan and Alberta, and great uncle John Paterson. Alberta collected and wrote information on the back of most of the photos. Before she passed away, she gave the photos to Bruce’s father, who then passed them on to him.

Dan’s legal name was Don, but he went by Dan. Bruce isn’t aware of the reason. He started out as a trapper and built Hudson Bay Company forts. His next job was as a ship’s pilot on the Northland Echo. It was a steamship, which ran on the Athabasca River and Athabasca Lake. Pilots steer a ship through dangerous or congested waters. Dan was promoted to captain of the Echo and later another ship on the Mackenzie River.

Until the railway came in 1915, river boats were also common on Lesser Slave Lake. The bottom left photo is from Mirror Landing, across the river from present day Smith, in the M.D. of Lesser Slave River.

“The new Northland Echo, during the 1923 Season will make weekly trips, commencing May 9th, between Waterways and Ft. Fitzgerald, connecting with A. & G.W. Ry,” says a Northern Trading Co. 1923 map and brochure (pictured below). “The first through trip to McKenzie River will leave Waterways June 10th, connecting with S.S. Northland Trader for Norman, Aklavik (near the Arctic Ocean) and other points. The S.S. Northland trader will Leave Fort Smith for Norman and Aklavik as soon as the ice is clear on Great Slave Lake, between the 15th of Jun and the 1st of July.”

It cost $1 to go between McMurray and Waterways. The fare from Waterways to Norman Oil Wells, and return including meals and birth was $300, and without berth $275. This seems to indicate that it took 25 days, as berths were $1 a day. Meals were 75 cents for breakfast and $1 each for dinner and supper.

For cargo, prices include the prices for canoes between posts, cattle and horses between posts, dogs between posts.

“Bryan’s tractor carrying freight between Fort Fitzgerald and Forth Smith.”
“Taken at Mirror Landing 1911 75 miles up river from Athabasca 200 miles north of Edmonton,” it says on the back of this photo, which was made into a postcard. Mirror Landing was more or less across the river from present-day Smith.
Northern Trading Co. 1923 map shows the route from Waterways to Aklavik, near the Arctic Ocean.
The rest of the brochure had other information such as passenger and cargo rates.
Called the “Athabasca River”. The smaller boat is the “Northland Echo.” These boats ran on the Athabasca River and Athabasca Lake. Dan was pilot and then captain of the Northland Echo.

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